Several 3 am to 6 pm work weeks have kept me from posting more regularly. During that period, I did have my level 6 grad show. Our class was quite large. We were 15 students at times so we didn’t have as much stage time as a normal class might. Contrary to my level 3 and 5 classes, I felt I didn’t have as great chemistry with several of my scene partners because of that lack of practice. In all, I felt I only had two or three good scenes during class ahead of the show.
On the other hand, this was a more theoretical class than my previous ones. For the first time, I had a repeat teacher. It was the return of my level 1 instructor. He considers himself very much an “improv nerd”. His teaching style reminds me of the high school science teacher who really wants to get his students to know the fundamentals while also introducing new concepts. I found myself questioning my choices even more than usual. Upon reflection, I was very interested in pursuing plot while it was stressed the focus should be “game”. For those unfamiliar with improv, game is essentially the joke or running gag of the scene. For example, a character allergic to cats who works at a pet shop trying to sell a felines to the other person in the scene.
As a result, I began to focus even more on facilitating my scene partners’ schtick rather than contribute on my own to achieve game. It was only by the end of the course when we received the lesson to call out your scene partners’ mistakes or peculiar actions on stage where I began to get into a groove of sorts. I was being far too subtle in my delivery and it would occasionally go over the head of my scene partner while on stage. Boldness was key and a lesson I had somewhat allowed to lapse from level four.
Our level 6 class introduced us to a new format called Armando. Instead of performing a series of scenes based on a single word as inspiration, a performer would give a monologue of two to three minutes. Being an aspiring writer, I was quick to volunteer for the task with short stories inspiring great sets. It was fun seeing what others would focus or extract from an anecdote. In one example, I told the group a story about Reebok Pumps
Growing up, my family was lower-middle class and so finances were tight to buy expensive sneakers. Nevertheless, as a kid of 9 I was impressionable and bought into the advertising of the shoes being the best thing since sliced bread. I pleaded with my parents to get a pair. I was so thrilled when my dad finally relented. That summer, we would constantly go outside and play baseball. However, this tale is one of great drama as I went on to explain how the shoes were ruined. We were out playing baseball at the local field the day after it had rained. One of my baseballs had landed into a huge mud patch. In an effort to retrieve the ball, I ended up losing one of the shoes in the mud. Going back to get it, made it worse. When I finally got home, the shoes were filthy. My dad tried hosing them down to clean them but they became waterlogged and later warped while drying. Further, the pumps no longer worked. For the next two years my parents would only get me really cheap velcro sneakers and jogging pants.
For the show itself, we had split the group in two, with a practice show the weekend before. I was asked to give the monologue for the practice. I wrote and memorized three stories of three to four minutes in length. An hour before the show, I was asked to go for two to three minutes. Ten minutes before the show, it was cut further down by another 30 seconds. I scrambled to cut out parts of the story but also adapted to a request by some of my classmates to give lots of details. The lights went out at the two minute mark of my monologue about the time I was 16 working at a convenience store and was offered fellatio by a pair of prostitutes in exchange for a sandwich. The performers did a fantastic job taking the story and adapting it into analogous scenes.
For the show itself, we were the second set. My performance was based on a story about a classmate forced to go to Summer camp every year because his cousins were sent there. As an aside, he explained that was often the case in his family where if it was good for the goose, it was good for the gander. The main story was an anecdote about how one year he almost killed a camper by spraying bug spray into his mouth out of revenge for a prank.
For my initiated scene, I focused on the idea of being forced to go somewhere because someone else had to go. I stepped forward on stage, holding the hand of one of the female classmates. I leaned over a chair and proudly exclaimed: “Thanks for coming to my proctology exam with me. You’re a true friend.” The line was met with widespread laughter to kick us off. The set before us had been great so we managed to maintain the momentum; even earning high praise from the theatre’s owner. Nevertheless, if I had to nitpick, I felt our group could have been faster to cut scenes. All the more aggressive performers were in the first group. Thus, a few scenes went a bit long but otherwise everything turned out for the best.